1. Justice is central to God’s character.
As the biblical revelation of God makes its first climax in the Mosaic covenant, Yahweh continually manifests his character in contrast to the neighboring gods of Israel’s pagan neighbors. While the ancient Near Eastern gods were often cruel, unstable, and not trustworthy, Yahweh was morally good, consistent, and just. He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4; see also Psalm 33:5; Isaiah 30:18). Indeed, so central is this attribute to God’s nature that justice and righteousness—sharing the same root word—are said to be the foundation of his throne (Psalm 89:14). As God’s people journeyed with him throughout their covenant life, they would learn just how central justice is to the heart of God.
2. God expects that justice be at the center of his covenant people.
God’s call to holiness is based on his own intrinsic holiness, and the same is true when it comes to justice (Leviticus 11:44-45). Since people come to share in the likeness of whomever or whatever they worship, God clarifies his expectation that his people practice justice—because he is a just God. He therefore formalizes social responsibility by including it in the Mosaic covenant; there are specific instructions on how to relate to the vulnerable and the foreigner, and how to deal in the marketplace, to name just a few categories. See Genesis 18:19; Exodus 22-23; Leviticus 19; Deuteronomy 16; Psalm 82:3. The life of Job should be taken as a model for God’s people; “I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban.” (Job 29:14) The call to pursue justice is reaffirmed in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 7:11; Philippians 4:8);
3. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is where the justice and mercy of God meet.
As the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear, since God is perfectly just, he could not allow sin to go unpunished. He hears the cries of those suffering injustice, and promises to intervene, “Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.” (Psalm 7:6) This is why the atonement that Jesus provided was necessary. There is a sense in which God’s simply forgiving or decreeing salvation is not a possibility, given his justice. If he didn’t punish sin—and by implication, sinners—he would not be true to his own character, and would ultimately be untrustworthy. Hence, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus provided the means by which God can administer justice in its first stage, objectively: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21; see also Romans 5:18–21; 1 Peter 2:23–24).
4. God does not relate to the world strictly according to justice, but through grace and mercy.
While God is in his right to deal with his creation according to the strictest terms, his justice is qualified by being wrapped up in his own love and compassion. Therefore, the judgment that the world bore during “Noah’s” flood was just, as was his desire to judge the Israelites as they broke covenant at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:1-14). However, he pours out his grace and mercy to both his covenant and non-covenant people alike; on both good and evil alike (Matthew 5:45). If the justice of God appears to be delayed, we should understand it as an act of grace and mercy (2 Peter 3:8-9), while working to help alleviate the pain of the most vulnerable (Habbakuk 1:2-4).
5. Personal piety without a life marked by justice is repugnant to God.
The tendency to privatize religion and ignore its social nature is as ancient as the Bible’s oldest characters. Cain believe he could sacrifice to God while taking his brother’s life and shirking off social responsibility: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Israel’s ruling class and aristocrats regularly ignored the plight of the poor and vulnerable, drawing the strongest critique from God’s prophets: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8; see also Proverbs 21:3; Zechariah 7:9). Jesus’ message was regularly a pointed critique of common “religious” patterns that ignored the true heart of the Law; “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42).
6. Justice was a primary concern of the ministry of Jesus and his kingdom.
In the life and message of Jesus, the world is reminded of God’s concern for the poor and the vulnerable. As Jesus inaugurates his ministry, he announces, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18, alluding to the many passages in Isaiah, such as 61:1). The gospel speaks hope to the oppressed and challenges the place and rights of the privileged in society. Most of Jesus’ time was spent with the poor, the sinners, and the marginalized, while his strongest critiques addressed the powerful in society. In the kingdom of God, special preference is given to the vulnerable and lowly (Matthew 5-7; 1 Corinthians 1:27).
7. God will bring about ultimate justice on earth through his Son Jesus Christ.
Though the gospel be a powerful force of transforming grace, the Bible is not optimistic about human attempts to bring about lasting justice (see Romans 12:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:6). Rather, earth’s final era of God’s just kingdom is ushered in by the second advent of just, King Jesus. The Bible declares, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations . . . In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:1-4; see also Hebrews 11:33; Revelation 19:11) But rather than this absolve the church of its call to justice, it rightly locates our calling within the larger framework of the Spirit’s supernatural work of transforming hearts and societies, which will one day end in Christ’s return to earth and his administration of perfect justice.